State hands Copelands $80,000 fine

SLO business owners rebuked for concealing money in effort to stop Dalidio project

acornejo@thetribunenews.comOctober 14, 2010 

San Luis Obispo downtown business owners Jim and Tom Copeland were fined $80,000 by the state Fair Political Practices Commission on Thursday for concealing more than $220,000 in contributions toward the campaign against Ernie Dalidio’s efforts to develop his San Luis Obispo property.

Local banker David Booker also faces a portion of the fines. He acted as the manager for Responsible County Development LLC, which was formed to funnel contributions to the committee opposing Measure J.

Booker was named in six of 16 counts filed against the Copelands for violations of the Political Reform Act and will be held liable along with the Copelands for $30,000 of the $80,000 in proposed fines.

The five-member FPPC voted unanimously at its meeting in Sacramento to levy the fines against the Copeland brothers and Booker, ending a more than three-year investigation.

The Copelands paid the fine Thursday, said Suzanne Fryer, the Copelands’ attorney and spokeswoman for their firm, Copeland Properties.

They violated the Political Reform Act, the FPPC staff report says, because the limited-liability corporation they created hid the names of its members and failed to disclose the true purpose of the $220,944 “loan” it made to the No on J committee.

The Copeland brothers are longtime business owners in downtown San Luis Obispo. Their properties include Downtown Centre, the Court Street development and the planned Chinatown project. Their family founded the Copelands Sports chain.

The Copelands waived their rights to certain hearings and to be heard by the commission, according to FPPC documents, resulting in the default recommendation by the agency’s enforcement division to pay the full penalty amount.

For nearly two decades, rancher-developer Dalidio has wanted to build a shopping center on 131 acres of farmland next to Highway 101 on San Luis Obispo’s south side.

But the project has had a history of opposition. In recent years, several ballot measures have gone before voters to determine the project’s fate.

The Copelands contributed $20,000 in their names to the committee opposing Measure J, according to the FPPC report.

According to the agency, the pair then contributed more than $220,000 to the committee via Responsible County Development LLC, managed by Booker.

Booker signed an affidavit stating that the Responsible County Development LLC was formed to be used as an “investment vehicle,” according to the FPPC report.

However, the LLC made only one investment — a $500,000 investment in American Principle Bank during its initial public offering for 50,000 shares of the bank’s stock.

At the same time, Booker served as the senior executive vice president and vice chairman of the board at the bank. The $220,000 in contributions took the form of loans that were never repaid by the organization opposing Measure J — the County Coalition for Local Control, No on Measure J-06 committee.

Those contributions accounted for the bulk of the money received by the committee, according to the FPPC.

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.

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